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What to know for Falcons - Broncos in Week 9

A matchup of a plucky but lousy Broncos team against a...plucky but lousy Falcons team.

NFL: AUG 01 Preseason - Hall of Fame Game - Falcons v Broncos Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons are playing their final game before the bye, and also their easiest game on paper the rest of the way. A win here would give Atlanta something good to feel good about before they hit the toughest part of their schedule, and a win does seem eminently possible.

Here’s a closer look at the Falcons - Broncos matchup ahead, and how Atlanta might pilot their way to their third victory of the season.

Falcons - Broncos head-to-head

The Broncos have a better record than the Falcons, but they are emphatically not a better football team.

Week 9 Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Giveaways
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Giveaways
Falcons 2-6 14 6 2 19 22 28 31 8 20 6
Broncos 3-4 27 26 25 17 17 17 17 18 19 30

The Broncos have a roughly middle-of-the-road defense that is good at getting after the quarterbacks, with 20 sacks in 7 games and 45 quarterback hits overall (compared to 13 sacks and 48 QB hits for Atlanta). They also have a roughly middle-of-the-road rushing attack, which has kept them in games in the past.

But let’s be clear on what this Broncos team doesn’t do well. They are not a great passing attack, having cycled through three quarterbacks due to injury. Their starter, Drew Lock, has 4 touchdowns and 5 picks in 5 games, and overall they have 9 scores versus 11 interceptions on the year. They give a middle of the road back (Melvin Gordon) double the carries of the more productive Phillip Lindsay, and only Jerry Jeudy is truly terrific as a receiving option for this offense. They’ve allowed 20 sacks and are prone to turnovers, making this perhaps the weakest offense the Falcons have faced thus far in 2020.

The defense is much better but is still very much a so-so unit, one that does not excel at creating turnovers. The secondary can be picked on, especially by a passing attack as productive as Atlanta’s, and the run defense is merely decent. This is a team with some pieces but far from the whole puzzle, and they’re the weakest opponent on paper left on the slate for Atlanta.

The Falcons are slowly dragging themselves out of the huge hole they dug themselves into on defense, moving from “worst in the NFL” to merely “bad.” The offense continues to be frustratingly incapable of putting up huge point totals, and Denver’s path to victory probably looks something like it did against San Diego: Prey on a weak defense and get just enough stops to eke one out.

How the Broncos have changed since the last time

The Falcons last faced off against the Broncos in 2016, so as you’d imagine much has changed. Denver’s quarterback was Paxton Lynch, their lead back was C.J. Anderson, and Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas were their top receivers. Gary Kubiak was the head coach, and that was two head coaches ago.

The Broncos are a team that have been chasing their 2015 glory without much success. John Elway remains in charge of things because he’s John Elway, but not because he’s done much to inspire confidence in his handling of the team. They’re 21-34 since 2017 and will need players like Lock and Jeudy to really work out if they’re going to return to relevance.

It’s fair to say this Broncos team, as constructed, is a rebuilding one hoping to discover a quality passing attack and ramp the defense back up to the elite levels of yesteryear. Chances are it’s not happening this year, and chances are good they’ll start over with another head coach next year, though their proximity to .500 leaves some chance that they’ll surprise.

What you need to know for the game

This is the easiest game left, so if the Falcons can’t pull it off it certainly raises doubts about the rest of the slate. The Falcons follow up this home game with games against the Saints, Raiders, Saints again, Chargers, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Bucs again, so they really have to take advantage of this matchup if they’re intent on a respectable showing in 2020 when all is said and done.

The path to victory is pretty clear: The Falcons should take advantage of a suspect back half of the defense to pass all day, preferably on quick outs that keep pressure off Ryan, and try their luck against a so-so run defense to achieve some measure of balance. Defensively, they should blitz the hell out of Lock and force the oft-overwhelmed quarterback to make rushed throws that might lead to turnovers. If the run defense can be typically solid, they should be able to force enough mistakes to win unless the offense utterly bombs. Easier said that done, as always, but if they’re getting Darqueze Dennard and Takk McKinley back I really like their chances of making this a long day for the Broncos offense.

A loss here would drop the Falcons to 2-7, functionally destroy any real chance of Raheem Morris making a push to stay on as the long-term head coach, and set the Falcons up to finish worse than 7-9 this year given the many difficult matchups ahead. A win would move them to 3-6 and keep them somewhat in the NFC South race and feeling confident with the Saints looming.